Background: Alcohol is heavily consumed in sub-Saharan Africa and affects HIV transmission and treatment and is difficult to measure. Our goal was to examine the test characteristics of a direct metabolite of alcohol consumption, phosphatidylethanol (PEth).
Methods: Persons infected with HIV were recruited from a large HIV clinic in southwestern Uganda. We conducted surveys and breath alcohol concentration (BRAC) testing at 21 daily home or drinking establishment visits, and blood was collected on day 21 (n = 77). PEth in whole blood was compared with prior 7-, 14-, and 21-day alcohol consumption.
Results: (i) The receiver operator characteristic area under the curve (ROC-AUC) was highest for PEth versus any consumption over the prior 21 days (0.92; 95% confidence interval [CI]: 0.86 to 0.97). The sensitivity for any detectable PEth was 88.0% (95% CI: 76.0 to 95.6) and the specificity was 88.5% (95% CI: 69.8 to 97.6). (ii) The ROC-AUC of PEth versus any 21-day alcohol consumption did not vary with age, body mass index, CD4 cell count, hepatitis B virus infection, and antiretroviral therapy status, but was higher for men compared with women (p = 0.03). (iii) PEth measurements were correlated with several measures of alcohol consumption, including number of drinking days in the prior 21 days (Spearman r = 0.74, p < 0.001) and BRAC (r = 0.75, p < 0.001).
Conclusions: The data add support to the body of evidence for PEth as a useful marker of alcohol consumption with high ROC-AUC, sensitivity, and specificity. Future studies should further address the period and level of alcohol consumption for which PEth is detectable.